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Distance Learning or In Person - The Buddy Bench

Teachers. We are tired! What a few months we've had, and what an amazing job you all have done, rising to the occasion of teaching from a distance! And now, the waiting game has begun. Will the new school year find us back in our classrooms, or will we be squares on ZOOM, or will we be expected to manage a hybrid practice? If you are tired, and need to lie down for awhile or go for a walk, I get it. Do that. Come back when you need this!

I believe that you are going to need this at some point though. More challenges lie ahead, and as my teaching colleagues have heard me say so many times through our years together, "I have an idea!" I'm embarking today on a blog series focusing on what lies ahead. The overarching theme is "Distance Learning or In Person?". Each new post will try to answer that question so that we can approach some important learning community issues in both ways. I hope you'll find this series helpful as you begin your new school year!

The Buddy Bench
What is a Buddy Bench? This concept has been around since 2013, when a second grader came up with an idea for lonely kids at recess time. The Buddy Bench doesn't even have to be an actual bench, but it does have to be an agreed upon meeting place. When a child sits on a Buddy Bench, it sends a signal to others that he/she/they would like to interact with someone. This could mean just talking or joining in a game. It's a great way to promote inclusion and to build empathy. I'm all for anything we can do to build these kids up from the inside out. The Buddy Bench is relationship and SEL magic!

The secret to success with your Buddy Bench is to discretely teach what it's all about and to model using it. When we installed one at my school, I discovered that the very kids who needed it most in order to find companions at recess were the kids who lacked skill in interpersonal communication. (Anyone surprised?) That's when I developed a set of cards that could be laminated and left at the Buddy Bench to serve as conversation prompts. You can make your own or find them here, but the important thing is to practice using them. Select a topic and try a model discussion. The topics on my cards all center on finding some common ground on which a friendship may be built.  What are your favorite kind of movies? Music? Ice cream? What do you like to do best at recess? What's your favorite joke? You get it, right?

The Buddy Bench in Normal Times
In normal post pandemic times, your Buddy Bench will be a fixture on your playground. Our PTA even added a second one right outside the office for indoor recess. Kids will use it to signal that they would rather not spend  recess alone, and other kids will join them. They will find something something to chat about, and may move on to a soccer match, a jump rope game, or a race around the track. They may even find a quiet place under a tree to read a book together. As a teacher (or recess supervisor), you need to kind of watch the bench out of the corner of your eye. If a kid has been sitting there for too long, either encourage a child (that you have pre-arranged a buddy position with) or go and sit there yourself. Start up a conversation. No one wants to put himself/herself out there as being all alone, and then stay that way.

My favorite nine year old told me today that the Buddy Bench at his school is just a place to throw your coat if you get too warm at recess. He went on to say that since everyone at his school is already such good friends with everyone else, the Buddy Bench isn't used anymore. My dad had an expression for that which, in translation, means, "It should always be so." I swear I heard his voice telling me that when I heard about this repurposed Buddy Bench! My wish for you is that yours becomes a coat holder as well!

In any case, your Buddy Bench should become a familiar sight and a familiar concept to your students. It's their signal to be good people and to include others whenever possible. How lovely to sit on the Buddy Bench on a perfect Spring day and chat with a new found friend! Sigh.

The Virtual Buddy Bench
At the beginning of a new school year, if we are still delivering our lessons remotely, kids within their new virtual classrooms will still need ways of getting to know each other. By making a virtual version of the Buddy Bench in their online learning environment, you will be adding in an important social-emotional component. You might also get better attendance (all other things being equal) at your online live lessons if the kids know each other in some way and look forward to seeing each other online. If you are setting up breakout groups in Google Classroom, it will be easier to group kids who know each other. We've all known for a long time that kids are more likely to participate in groups if the other people in the group are people that they enjoy being with.

To create a virtual Buddy Bench, the easiest (and most fun) way I could think of was to start with one of those Bitmoji Virtual Classrooms that all the cool kids (in teacher form) are creating. It's a compelling landing page for all of your online lessons, activities, and assignments to be linked to. Add a clip art Buddy Bench to your main page as shown in the first image below. When students click on the Buddy Bench, the link should take them to an activity page like the second image. They can find the prompt of the day or week on the Buddy Bench page. They will "write" their own short response on a virtual post it note and drag it to the virtual bulletin board. Too many students? They can drag notes to the white board and to cabinets.

Once all student responses have been collected, you can use them to group kids into breakout rooms for further discussion, or just discuss the responses at your next online meeting time.

The Socially Distanced Buddy Bench
If the miracle that so many have been wishing for occurs, and you find yourself back in your real life classroom, social distancing will be a must. Your socially distanced Buddy Bench can be set up as a center, as pictured in the second image above. Students should visit the center one at a time, carrying their own sticky note pad and pen. Remember, you don't need an actual bench. For a socially distanced situation, I would use a single chair or desk. Students could also write their responses to the buddy prompt at their own desk, and then place it on the bulletin board or white board when it is their turn at the center. Morning Meeting is a great time to share and discuss some of the responses.

Hope you'll find some of these suggestions helpful as you head back to school. You can get the prompts that I created by clicking on the cover below. Blank clipboard pages are available to create your own as well! To add them to your virtual classroom, just do a screen shot of the prompt that you want to use. I am working on a Google Slide version and will come back here to edit once it is ready!

If you like the virtual classroom backgrounds used in this post, you can find them and so much more to design your own virtual classroom settings at Glitter Meets Glue on TpT!

Check back here soon for the next in the series Distance Learning or In Person - What Are the Rules?

Untamed Teachers

Yinz! Yinz have got to read this book! (Yinz  = Pittsburghese for Y'all. As in Y'all! You have got to read this book!) Just trying to be authentic here. I'm from Pittsburgh. It would be inauthentic to say Y'all. But really - Read this book! It's summer, and you have time now.

I was scrolling through Facebook in the midst of our shelter at home order and came upon a video of Glennon Doyle reading an excerpt from her new book. She was, of course, sheltering at home also. She was on the couch with a quilt, just like me, but was wearing a fabulous and unique sweater. I was wearing PJs. She was wearing the sweater  that she had planned to wear to an in-person book tour event. I loved her voice, and the chapter she read, "Attendants", really spoke to me. It addressed the fear and anxiety so many of us were feeling at the time, and also reminded me of a specific situation I had been in during an overseas flight.

Glennon's reading sent me right off to order her book. I listened to it on Audible and added it to my Kindle library. When my podcast group, We Teach So Hard, decided to read the book together and discuss it during our Summer Reading series, I needed to order the hardcover and actually hold it in my hands. The cover is gorgeous - looks like poured paint and glitter - and the book made it easier to add tabs and to mark up. Our discussion also prompted me to replay the audiobook during my morning walks. Each section of the replay gave me a new thought for the day.

Glennon Doyle's works are all memoir and her life is nothing like mine, yet everything she writes speaks to me on a level that is meaningful in my own life. Try reading this one - I think you will find the same is true. I will talk about a few takeaways that I think are relevant to my teacher life, and I hope you will also listen to our podcast episode.

In the first section of the book, "Caged", Glennon talks about all the ways that women are caged and limited by the society in which we live. I personally think that our society provides plenty of limitation cages for humans in general. As a teacher, I have many times walked willingly into the cages set up for me. Heck, I even decorated them and added stronger locks to some. The cage of how a teacher should dress, the cage of what you can discuss with your students, the cage of standards to tick off, the cage of how parent contacts should go, and the tiny, suffocating cage of teacher evaluations. There's more, but these stood out to me. Doyle doesn't talk about the teacher life in her book because she is not a teacher (not officially anyway). But wow. So much there to apply to teaching. My teaching was pretty ordinary until I discovered the "key" of imagination. I freed myself and my students by shutting the door and just teaching. I invited my students to "live inside of their imaginations" along with me.

In the section on "Keys", Doyle talks about the inner work that must be done to break out of the cages. The one that spoke to me (other than "Imagine") was "Know". It took me years to break out of following the traditional molds of teaching because I was too frantically busy trying to stay on top of it all every minute of every day. When I finally took the time (during a seven year hiatus at home with my children) to consider what was good and not so good about my teaching practice, I was ready to return with something much better to offer my students: imagination, joy, and curiosity. I didn't need seven years, and neither do you. A short time this summer away from it all, and the opportunity to look inside is enough. Listening to the audio version of this amazing book is a wonderful trip inside yourself because every section makes you think.

The last section talks about all the ways to break free and to be free. The biggest problem with all of this is that you have to be willing to "burn it down" (get rid of what you may have believed and held on to for your whole life) in order to find freedom. You may need to read, walk away, and go back later to review. Read a few beach reads in between! LOL! My application to teaching here is the ways in which I became a district leader in the last third of my career. I had burned down the expectations that were confining my imagination and thought of some educationally better ways to do things. Some of these were to trust the students to make good decisions during PBL assignments, to decide on the structure and rules of our learning community with the children rather than for them, and to add much more of the arts into my teaching in some unconventional ways.
By the way, you might not have "burned it down" on your own, but you sure broke into some new ways of delivering an education this Spring. You were expected to shift with just hours of warning from in person classrooms to online learning. From what I was able to observe from my perch in retirement, WOW! You nailed it, teacher! You are a cheetah and a prophet! (Read the book and you'll know why I have called you that!)

The We Teach So Hard podcast group would love for you to try these recipes while you make your way through Untamed. Hope you find time for peace and reflection this summer. Yinz owe it to yourselves!

Thrifty Thursday

Click here for these and other great #thriftythursday deals!

Winning Wednesday

Teacher Tip Tuesday

As promised, each Tuesday in June will have a tip for you to hopefully make your teaching life or personal life a little easier (#teachertipTuesday). As I write this, we are still in the midst of some pretty hard times. There are protests in the streets of every state in our nation and violence has taken over. Watching the TV news is frightening, we are still expected to stay at home as much as possible, and the threat of coronavirus still looms pretty large.

Of course we should notice what is going on, listen to the feelings of our citizens who have been disenfranchised for far too long, and take action wherever we can to work for a better world. We also need to take care of ourselves. You can't pour from an empty vessel. A car can't run on an empty tank. You get the picture.

Please make sure to carve out some time for yourself each day. As a beginning point, try adding in a little yoga practice first thing in the morning. Do it before breakfast, before turning on the news, before working on plans or lessons or meetings for school. Make it your time for quiet, stretching of body and mind, and gathering strength for the day ahead.

Many yoga studios are currently offering free sessions on YouTube. Easy to search for. Most are free and ask for voluntary donations.

You can also find lots of easy to use yoga support at Rainbow City Learning. Follow this link to check them out. 

Comment below to win a resource of your choice from Rainbow City Learning's Zen Classroom collection priced at $5.50 or less. Be sure to add your email address in your comment and tell which resource you'd like to win! Winners will be announced on Wednesday's blog post for #winningWednesday.

You're important to so many people in your life. Remember to take care of you!

Monday Motivation

As promised last week, here's a little Monday Motivation for you! Thanks for paying attention and coming back.

For the month of June, some friends and I will be bringing you a motivational quote or thought every Monday, a teacher tip or hack for Tuesday, a Winning Wednesday giveaway, a Thrifty Thursday deal on a TpT resource or two, and a Freebie every Friday! Check back here or on my Facebook page each day! Also, search online or on TpT, Instagram, or Facebook for these hashtags:
#motivationMonday, #teachertipTuesday, #winningWednesday, #thriftyThursday, and #freebie Friday.

I am reading Glennon Doyle's new book, Untamed, for the second time. Listening to it, too! So many life-changing quotes there! For today, my quote of choice is about noticing. You know, with all that is swirling around us in the world right now: civil unrest, the ever-present pandemic, and teachers saying goodbye to their students from a distance, the easy way to deal might be to shut it all out. But really, shutting it out is not going to help at all. It's just a way of prolonging the pain. The best thing each of us can do in these trying times is to pay attention. Notice everything, listen well to those in more pain than you are, and just be there for each other.

Glennon's quote for this first day of June. Hope you find it helpful on this #motivationMonday.
See you tomorrow!